This morning, Transport minister Andrew Adonis opened the final section of the London to Glasgow motorway.

Described by the Department of Transport as the ‘missing link’, the £174 million M6 Extension from north of Carlisle to the Scottish Border has been opened 50 years to the day after the first section of motorway.

Utterly hopeless - half a century to complete one of the country’s main arteries.

The Preston By-pass, just 8.2 miles long, was opened by then-PM Harold Macmillan on 5 December 1958. 75 miles of M1 quickly followed it, the following year.

Britain was, of course, 24 years behind Italy, which built the first Autostrada in Europe.

In today’s press release, Minister Adonis says UK motorways are

‘…the lifelines of the country, making an invaluable contribution to our business and economic needs and they help keep friends and family connected.That is why we are investing in a safe, reliable and sustainable motorway network for the 21st Century - expanding the network where necessary and making smarter use of the motorways by opening the hard shoulder to traffic to cut congestion.’

Funny, then, that Britain has managed – just – to build 3500kms of motorway. The rest of Europe is way ahead of us. Italy has nearly 6000km, France around 10,000km, Spain nearly 11,000km and Germany with nearly 12,000km.

As the Road Users’ Alliance points out, 89 percent of all inland freight is carried on our pathetically small motorway network.

We also have, by some margin, the highest number of cars per kilometer of motorway in Europe.

In 2008, it is still not possible to drive on a dual carriageway all the way from London to Norwich. And there are only 36 miles of motorway in the North East.

Instead of a proper motorway, the vital east-west A14 link road to the Anglian ports is a disgraceful, and often dangerous, lash-up of glued-together local A-roads.

Does the government really believe that motorways

‘are the lifelines of the country, making an invaluable contribution to our business and economic needs’ ?

You could have fooled the UK’s hard-pressed motorists.